I’m not sure why or how this happened, but people watching over the last few weeks had taken me down to the coast. Although it’s good to be away from the urban madness, for several days I’ve had this insistent feeling in the pit of my stomach that I needed to get back to Boomtown. So, I stuffed my few belongings into my battered rucksack and checked out of the little B&B I’d been staying in. It was one of those uncommon days that I suppose you could describe as ‘nice’ and I decided to walk down to the taxi rank at the sea front, hoping to grab a ride into town. The taxi rank was empty but I wasn’t in a hurry and this was an ideal opportunity to do a little people watching.
I’ve said it before, but you don’t have to wait too long in Boomtown before something kicks off and sure enough within a few minutes, there was some sort of dust up on the thin sliver of sand that passes for a beach. From where I stood, it looked like this tall tousle-haired bloke had been chatting up a pretty girl, sat on one of the faded ‘rent-me-by-the the-hour’ deckchairs that were scattered across the strand. She seemed to be enjoying the attention – chatting with her would-be suitor and happily smiling back at him. That was until a bloke that I guess was her boyfriend, came out of the sea-front café, calling the odds and leaving the interloper in doubt about his fate if he got hold of him.
Just as the tall bloke did the sensible thing and started to beat a retreat, a battered old taxi pulled up and I jumped into the back. The inside of the car smelt of worn leather and stale cigarettes and the driver had all the windows rolled down to make the best of the thin coastal air. As with all drivers in Boomtown, a gas-mask sat in the empty seat beside him. Having taken countless taxi journeys into the city, I knew what to expect as we got nearer the ‘big smoke’. On a good day, it would be just a matter of closing the car windows, but at the slightest hint of heavy traffic, the driver would put on his mask. Although most Boomtown taxi drivers were pleasant enough, they weren’t known for their conversation. I’ll leave it to you to imagine what happened to any chat once the mask went on!
Boomtown isn’t blessed with much of a car culture. Most citizens seem to be content with pottering round in clapped out old bangers which only get replaced after they’ve been run into the ground. Cars are bought second hand from small car lots that are strung out along the main roads into town. It’s pointless having car sales in the middle of Boomtown – on most days you’d drive off the lot and sit in traffic for hours. By putting the business on the outskirts, it’s likely you’d have driven your new purchase a few miles before it broke down - just far enough so the salesman didn’t have to face down all his pissed off customers. Normally, I wouldn’t give any of these car lots a second look but today held a rare surprise. There on what can laughingly be called the forecourt – in other words, the pavement at the front of the portacabin – among the usual array of faded Cortinas, tatty Marinas and clapped-out Rovers was this huge cream coloured Cadillac – all chromed out and looking powerful. It wasn’t for sale – but nevertheless a small crowd was gathered round and as we drove past, I could see the sweating salesman desperately trying to keep people away from his new pride and joy.
Finally, we arrived in Boomtown. It was about half past nine by this time and it was darker than usual. There was no moon in the sky and the few street lights that were working seemed to be losing their battle with the thickening darkness. After tipping the cabbie I set off for my flat taking a little rat-run I’d used many times – that’s when I heard a scream followed by scattered footfalls as shadowy figures fled the scene. I bent down over the figure slumped on the pavement, his words were mumbled and I could see blood flowing from a wound in his neck – I shivered when I realised that even on this lightless night, his blood still glistened. There was nothing I could do to save him and from the horror in his eyes, he knew that too. As he took his last breath, I’m sure I saw his spirit escape– a fleeting will o’the wisp that rose from his body and was quickly lost in the smothering blackness.